Latitude’s Festival Pastors – how one atheist’s experience of God at work created a ministry

Festival PastorsThe summer festival season is well and truly underway. This weekend sees the turn of Latitude Festival in Suffolk, one of the biggest of the year. It is also regarded as one of the safest with just 19 thefts reported in 2013. This hasn’t always been the case though. In 2010 Latitude hit the headlines for all of the wrong reasons when two rapes were reported including one gang rape. Women talked of being afraid of going out alone at night.

The turnaround in reputation has been in part due to an atheist police officer and a bunch of local Christians – including some from my own church. This is how it happened.

In 2005 the churches in Ipswich decided to form a Town Pastors scheme following the lines of the highly successful Street Pastors that had begun operating in other towns and cities around the country. These schemes involve Christians voluntarily patrolling the streets at night, helping and caring for people in practical ways. While this is happening groups will be simultaneously praying for the success of the work.

The impact of Street Pastors and other similar Christian groups under different names has been phenomenal. This work has won widespread approval and support from police forces and politicians. Significant reductions in crime figures have been repeatedly reported in areas where the Street Pastors initiatives have been operating, which have been confirmed by official police figures.

When the Ipswich Town Pastors organisers initially approached the local police force they were allocated a sergeant, Neil Boast to work with them. He was doubtful at first about the benefits and value of such an initiative and as an atheist had little interest in the prayer aspect. This is his own account:

‘It all started when I met Liz [the Town Pastors Co-ordinator] at a meeting. The meeting was promoting the idea that prayer could reduce crime.

‘I was ‘sent’ by my bosses and was reluctant to say the least to attend. I was very cynical and sceptical and almost ‘anti’. I was determined to be controversial and introduced myself as “Sergeant Boast from Ipswich Police Station, and I don’t believe in God”. One of the attendees piped up “You Will”, and everyone, including me, laughed. Christians, I have since found out, have a great sense of humour.’

As the scheme progressed crime numbers began to fall in Ipswich. Sexual assaults went down by 70% (compared to the previous year) during the first Christmas when the Town Pastors patrolled. Over the following years Town Pastors began operating in other local towns around Suffolk with similar levels of impact. Again in Neil’s words:

‘It’s probably the best thing I’ve achieved in my police service. My attitudes towards religion and Christianity have changed from negative to positive as a result of my continued work with the Town Pastors. I think that lots of officers were sceptical at first but the Police have statistical evidence to prove the Town Pastors have helped reduce crime.

‘I have found myself thinking far more about religion and faith and examining my own beliefs and morals. Sadly I’m not a Christian, but, I’d class myself, like a lot of the people who are helped each weekend by the Pastors, as, CONFUSED!’

(Neil’s full story can be found here)

In 2010 after the rapes at Latitude, Neil Boast was sent to speak to the festival organisers about the following year’s festival. They were threatened with the need for a large police presence, which would come at a considerable cost to them. This did not go down well, but as an alternative the organisers were told they could receive a group of Town Pastors from the Suffolk Churches to patrol the festival and be a presence. They reluctantly accepted.

So in 2011 a group of Town Pastors including some of my friends went to work as volunteers at Latitude. They were tolerated and only given a limited area in which they could work. Things quickly changed once they began their work. By the end of the four days they had made their mark and won over the management. Despite another rape incident between two people who knew each other Melvin Benn, the managing director spoke to the press saying, “I am happy with town pastors that have come to the area and been talking to festival goers. We have provided a great, secure festival.”

The following year the Town Pastors now known as Festival Pastors were able to become more involved, covering a larger part of the site. Crime continued to fall and there have been no more sexual attacks since the 2011.

In 2013 the work of the Festival Pastors at Latitude had developed such an impressive reputation that organisers from other festivals came to visit to see them in action. Teams from Street Angels and Street Pastors who had been operating at Leeds and Reading festivals came to observe and learn. As a result the Festival Pastors sent some of their members to support the Christian groups at both festivals and make more permanent bonds under the Festival Pastors name.

Thanks to the respect they have gained, this year there is a Sunday morning service at Latitude for the first time. Neil Boast is now retired and still a confused atheist. Earlier this year he was awarded an MBE, which was in part for his work with the Town and Festival Pastors.

Prayer and practical action can make big differences in tangible ways and so often when those who are willing to work with Christians see what is happening, they are won over. God’s work is good and gracious and when those from outside of the Church see what is happening, so often they are won over. When they embrace it, great things beyond expectation can happen and everyone benefits – even confused atheists

Categories: Christian organisations, Faith in society

55 replies

  1. Interesting. There is historical evidence that an increased Christian presence can reduce crime rates. Past revivals are always accompanied by a drop in crime (partly because there are less people willing to commit crimes, partly because of an increased Christian activism and quite possibly partly due to increased prayer for a society).

    I have never been able to persuade anybody of this though (despite the documented drop in crime figures in times of revival). I think it is one of those things which God simply doesn’t want to be proved. As a result, most people will put reduced crime rates during revivals down to socio-economic factors (as an aside, the recent recession didn’t result in an increase in crime and that fact baffled experts – Governments tended to take the credit). Politicians (and to be fair, the police) will often take the credit for reduced crime rates. It is then left for only Christians and God to know the truth (as if it is some intimate secret between a people and their God). It’s enough to drive the sanest person loopy.

  2. I am well aware of the town/street/festival/pastor/angel gimmick – naturally any extra ‘stewards’ on patrol in a blighted area, any area, is bound to have a beneficial effect. The fact that they claim to be ‘christians’ is neither here nor there, they could be reformed ex-prisoners, Klingons, or from the male Belly Dancers Confederation for all I care … an opening was spotted and the church seized it first.

    Admittedly, a friendly face helps but why oh why did Gillan have to ruin this great story for the pastors by claiming the success was partly due to prayer !

    Such silliness deserves another silly story:

    Female hippy goes up to some street pastors with her boyfriend and says : “My boyfriend wants to have sex with me, but I don’t want him to … can you help”? They reply “Stay there for a few minutes while we pray for you”
    5 minutes later … “Wow, I can feel the vibes” says her boyfriend, “I no longer want to have sex with you – I’m going home”

    “Oh thank you street pastors, you’re my hero’s” says the girl (or perhaps she said “Thank you street pastors … now look what you’ve done,you’ve ruined my day”)

    ‘Prayer’ is futile – period.

    • I’m half-hoping that God will see these kind of stories and ‘prayer is futile’ memes and respond by answering our prayers.

      Prayer is a resistance against evil.

      • Your first comment wasn’t present when I made my comment Nick, but had I’d seen it I would have had something to say about your ridiculous ending about “only christians and god knowing the truth” – how totally arrogant !

        How much more evidence do you need to convince you that ‘prayer’ is futile ? As an example, take 2 football teams from South America, before the match each player makes the ‘sign of the cross’ and ‘prays’ (presumably to score lots of goals)
        Player A puts everything into the match and gives his best performance ever, but fails to score any goals, later, in a controversial tackle, the referee mistakenly sends this player off.

        Player B in the other team, scores 2 lucky goals despite his dismal performance and his team wins.

        Now player A was playing at home and the vast majority of the crowd were praying for him too, yet in this controversial tackle, the referee mistakenly thought he saw player A throw a punch and immediately gave him the red card.

        We all know god is a football fanatic and was keenly watching this match from behind a cloud above the stadium so saw everything that happened and knew no punch was thrown (some may argue that god should have been protecting children on these Malaysian passenger jets instead of watching football, but still …)

        Do you still honestly believe ‘prayer’ is a “resistance against evil” ? Perhaps you have always been loopy and never sane !

      • Well I did pray for England to win the world cup. But that was only so that God would answer ‘yes’ to other prayers and feel guilty about saying ‘no’ so often.

        Do you think that asking for England to win the world cup was arrogant, superficial and demeaning to more important and greater needs in the world?

        Here’s a story back at you Neil (because stories are the greatest means of communication (even among the loopy)).

        A poor man once implored God to answer his prayers.
        “Please God,” he would cry (with tears), “Please let me win the lottery!”
        The man would spend whole nights in prayer because he was at the mercy of Wonga and he really needed the money.
        “Please God, if you love me, let me win the lottery.”
        Day followed day followed week followed week followed month followed month. The man grew poorer and poorer. Wonga prospered (clearly God was with them and had blessed them).
        And every day the same prayer.
        One day God replied to him out of the blue.
        “Please let me win the lottery.”
        “Okay, okay, I hear you,” said God, “Just buy a ticket will you?”

  3. And no doubt if England won the cup (in your dreams – ha !) you would have used this to justify praying.

    As for this poor man (and all the unfortunate children in this world who are born into suffering through no fault of their own) are we not to presume that there is an all seeing, all loving god lurking up in the sky somewhere ?
    If such a god existed WE WOULDN’T NEED TO PRAY ! Who’s lying ?

    • England did worse than ever which proves that God is listening to my prayers because he is answering them in reverse!

      In theory there is no need to pray. Except the Christian story (i.e. the gospels) suggest that God positively encourages people to pray to him. Like in Christ’s (who, remember, is agreed to be God himself by Christians) parable of the persistent widow. In that parable God likens himself to a stubborn, selfish judge. He is only persuaded to answer the prayers (which bizarrely are for justice) because of the widow’s sheer tenacity.

      Also, if God is rooting for some kind of apology from an individual he seems to want a verbal statement saying ‘sorry’ in prayer. In the same way as dreams are seen as the royal road to the unconscious by Jung et al, prayer is seen as the royal road to communication with God. In effect, God may know your heart, but sometimes he seems to want things spoken out loud.

      Whether he is a stubborn, selfish judge or not is for an individual to decide.

  4. Prayer is solely a balm for an individual’s ego. It is entirely self-serving.

    • Sometimes, but not always.

      Just say there was an individual who prayed for a friend regularly – you could say that the prayer is selfish (and even that a whole lot of the praying was about a selfish attempt to manipulate God were selfish). But the prayers for the person would still be mixed with a genuine affection. It may not entirely be dying for another person, but it is a way of living for others.

      As you know it’s debatable (at least in psychology) if an individual can do anything which isn’t in some way selfish. People debate whether a person can purely love another person without there being some selfish motivation.

      Besides which Christ encourages individuals to pray even for prayers which are selfish – he said that individuals should pray and ask for the things that they really want “So that your joy may be full”. So a person could pray, for example, for England to win the world cup so that other people in the country feel better. People will always so that such a prayer is superficial and selfish (after all, clearly a person praying that only wants other people to feel better so that he or she is treated with more kindness (as people often treat others when they feel better (because it is then that they show their true colours))). But it would be a mixture. Also, it is saying that every prayer by anyone ever has always been less than altruistic.

      Of course I rarely pray, but that it my understanding.

  5. How you define ‘prayer’ Nick is very different to how others define ‘prayer’ but any talk of ‘prayer’ is pointless when all it is is just another word for wishfull thinking.

    Now if only there was something to listen to your thoughts and was able to take action, that would be different.

    • I believe we may have a chip in the head or hand for that soon Neil.

      But talking of conspiracies I’ll leave you with some words from my old pastor – it’s something to think about…

      “Everything will conspire to keep you from the place of prayer.”

  6. There have been a few studies on the power of prayer. One of the more interesting ones was on two control groups of hospital patients, one receiving prayer, one not.
    In every case the patients receiving prayer did worse than the other group. There are obviously many reasons for this, but one of the main conclusions was thst those receiving prayer felt under pressure to get better and this pressure actually made them sicker!!!

    Prayer doesnt work!! what it does is allow people who are feeling helpless feel as if they are able to do something

    • So we have:

      Prayer doesn’t work
      Prayer is futile
      Prayer is a balm for the ego and is self-serving

      Actually maybe you are right. Maybe Christians shouldn’t even attempt to claim an influence when it comes to issues like prayer for communities (or Government, or media). Maybe it was never meant to be that way. Maybe it is always down to Government redevelopment, economic injections and other socio-economic factors. Maybe people grow in the face of trauma (which I actually agree with). Maybe the police and the Government can claim the credit for any small mercy left in society and God isn’t bothered by that.

      But why insist that everyone accept that the credit for any improvement belongs to the work of the establishment? And why deny a people their right to know that they have changed many people’s worlds for the better with their secret prayers?

      To be brow-beaten into believing that it is nothing is a compromise too far.

  7. As an aside and as an ipswich lad myself, I think the success of the town pastors has been exaggerated. The fall in nighttime crime is down to many factors from the closure of many pubs to largescale redevelopment of the area. However, I think the biggest impact has been from the fallout from the suffolk strangler murders. These events changed peoples behaviour forever. People look out for each other a lot more and make sure everyone gets home safely after a night out.

    As for prayer, where was god when these girls were being brutally murdered!!!

    • Quote: “As for prayer, where was god when these girls were being brutally murdered!!!” end quote.

      Possibly watching football or on holiday in Yorkshire (gods own county no less) ?

      Regarding the Ipswich murders, no doubt Steve Wright was a ‘christian’ and thought he was doing gods work – much like the extreme right wing ‘christians’ in the USA who set about murdering doctors who’m desperate women had gone to for an abortion.

  8. In the small town where i pastor there has been a dramatic decline in anti social behaviour and underage drinking dens. The local Police report the same level of crime in a seven month period that used to occur on one Friday night. The prayer teams are separate from the Pastors that go out but are in Radio contact with one another. We have often prayed at closing time when groups or individuals look to be confronting one another and the situation just seems to dissipate. Before i was a Christian i used to think that such instances were mere coincidence but it seems the more you pray the more ”coincidences” there are. Its not just in Ipswich though but in cities and towns right across the country where disorder has been reduced. Generally as Christians we do not pray for ourselves ( or our football teams ) but rather for Gods will. Thanksgiving is important to give perspective and appreciation and a positive backdrop to each day. Confession is another area- helps us to reflect on where we have got things wrong, many people carry emotional baggage and guilt which cause anxiety and misery which prayer in faith can alleviate. We seek guidance in daily concerns and call on spiritual resources. We meditate on the health and wellbeing of others in hope of healing. Taking time to pray in a busy stressful life has practical value before we consider the supernatural aspect . Giving hope and comfort to a person in a desperate situation is a kindness and there is nothing wrong with that. People use all sorts of things to give them comfort some of which are extremely harmful. Its true that we all need a balm to our ego at times and nobody can say that are never self serving but prayer i sense has mostly genuine intent. To be honest its hard to know what a prayer life in faith to God feels like unless you truly believe. Thats why all those prayer experiments that Richard Dawkins describes in the God delusion miss the central point. ITS ABOUT FAITH !! Not just faith in faith but rather faith in what faith does for the well being of people. Prayer is central and Town pastors is just one example of that. God wants us to flourish.

    • Graham, after firmly establishing the fact that prayer is futile, why do you persist in this silly talk – you are an adult for goodness sake !

      What is it you are ‘praying’ to exactly, do you think it can hear you, is it capable of responding to you or does all this occur in your head where only you can experience this well documented case of insanity ?

      I worry about you Graham, especially if you have children. Tony Blair heard voices in his head, now look at the consequences we all face – not so much perceived threats from so-called terrorists, but loss of freedom due to draconian new laws being quickly and undemocratically introduced.

      By all means believe some distant ‘god’ created the universe and then left evolution to do its bit, but please don’t make crazy claims that only people who believe in a god have the privilege of communicating with it on a one to one basis.

      • Please be careful Neil not to make things too personal. Graham has great integrity and has a lot to say on how he rejected his atheism.

        One if the key factors in Christianity is that God is not distant and that he both speaks and listens to us. There are millions of Christians who believe this because it makes sense to them. You can’t put all of it down to mental health problems.

      • Additionally (to what Gillan said) how have you “firmly established” that prayer doesn’t work? All you have offered is conjecture and derision. Based on your previous posts in various threads I am not surprised that you have turned to both personal attacks and unsubstantiated comment (not a personal attack, before you suggest otherwise, but merely an observation based on behaviour on this forum), but it is really a shame that for someone who states that he is all about rationalism and evidence that what you offer is lacking in both.

  9. Cant remember where I heard this, but seems relevant.

    ‘If someone said George Bush talked to god through a big red hairdryer, you would think him mad. Why does the addition of a big red hairdryer make it mad???’

  10. I don’t think Steven Wright was motivated to do ”Gods work” in the same way as Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire ripper was but must admit i cannot remember the case in every detail. Also God did not murder those vulnerable young women, Steven Wright in acts of evil did. Human sin is evident and corrosive and subversive and we can say in Steven Wrights case that he was polite and not previously aggressive to the women he used. So what snapped inside him ? There are countless testimonies of aggressive violent people being transformed through a life of prayer. You may argue that this is irrational or mad but if it leads to a better life then surely that must be good.

    • I never claimed god killed those 5 young women, I said “no doubt he (Steve Wright) thought he was doing gods work” but I should have added ” … what he mistakenly believed was gods work” You quite rightly said this was an act of evil but I wonder how you would describe your god where it says in the bible that ‘god’ ordered … … that women and children be killed ?

      Having only read the odd passage here and there, I cannot say precisely what the circumstances were that justified this action, perhaps their husbands had ‘sinned’ or something, but you must agree it was a trifle naughty of ‘god’ to take it out on the innocent ?

      The reality is of course, that there never was a god to give such orders, these were the actions of barbaric tribal leaders carrying out some of the numerous acts of genocide mentioned in the bible, and the winners of these battles order their official historian to re-write history by saying god ordered it.
      Such a shame there was never a real god to write the history books, let alone prevent the slaughter in the first place.

      Getting back to ‘prayer’ (by the way, I use inverted comma’s because you ‘pray’ to a virtual god – so prayer becomes virtual too) do you keep records of the number of ‘prayers’ which are ‘answered’ and those which aren’t ?
      Earlier on, somebody mentioned the sincerity of prayer and only those that are, genuine I guess, are answered – don’t tell me … god knows when people are sincere !

      So listen up all you Liverpool supporters out there, you have to close your eyes really tight, and press your hands together as though you’re squeezing all the juice out of a stone, then perhaps Liverpool might win the Premier League.
      (I chose Liverpool coz it is supposed to have the densest amount of ‘christians’ in any area of the UK)

      Finally, I’m sure you are quite a respected person in WM (yes, I’ve read your letters in the EADT) but I can only base my opinions of you from the comments you make here. There are no grey areas in science – we have the scientifically proven and the as yet, un-proven … there is no cloud cuckoo land in between consisting of spirits, heaven or prayer.

  11. Graham, I agree with a lot of what you said above. However, although god didn’t murder those women, he did sit idly by as it happened. I know if I could stop a murder I would do everything I could to do that.

    As for violent and aggressive people being changed, I get that. These people often lead chaotic lifestyles, and what christianity does is offer them stability, trust and people who genuinely care for them. Something that has often lacked in their life. There is nothing supernatural about this though and is just people responding to a bit of human kindness. There are plenty of non christian organisations that get the same results, for example, the iceni project that worked with the street girls in Ipswich following the murders.

    • In haste (my bed time !) I too agree with what you say Sarky, but my understanding is that the Iceni Project is a ‘christian’ project too.

      This unfortunately is where ‘atheists’ let themselves down – primarily because we do not have anything to prove so have no need to join any cult.

      Oh OK, there is the Humanist Association, but most of us have nothing to prove – because we are normal !

      • Hi Neil, cant find any info linking the iceni project to anything remotely christian. ( will hold my hands up if im wrong though) however christians are currently trying to fund something similar in the area.

  12. The Iceni project is not a Christian project and they do extraordinary good work

  13. Well i think its safe to say that we can agree to disagree on the idea of an unseen spiritual reality that can be experienced directly by humans. God could not intervene in every act of sin because we would then be controlled like robots. If love is the central theme it means nothing if it is not given freely as an act of human will. The vast majority of atrocities described in the Bible are the result of human decision. Sarky Talitha khoum ( Not sure of spelling ) is the Christian project based in Whitnesham which is now up and running,

    • Sorry Graham, but the whole free will argument just doesnt wash with me. If I was to follow gods example then if I saw a child being abused or a pensioner being mugged, then I wouldnt intervene because I would be interfering with the abusers/muggers free will??? Also if we are given free will, why the ten commandments???

      Can I ask you one question???? ‘If you had the powe to stop all the atrocities in the world, would you??’

    • You are still skirting around the awkward questions Graham … Sarky asked/pointed out that he could not sit idly by whilst a murder was taking place so why does ‘god’. You respond by saying ‘god’ could not intervene in every act of sin because then we would be controlled like robots.

      Seeing that most of us tolerate CCTV monitoring in almost every shop or street we go to, I would guess we would prefer it if some god was watching out for us rather than have an unknown person doing the monitoring. But do not you and your ilk make fantastic claims (especially towards innocent children) of how loving and caring this “Almighty” god is – how almighty is it exactly ?(and you do ‘know’ god don’t you !)
      And of course, we all know that ‘god’ turns up in EVERY church in the land at exactly the same time every Sunday.

      So on the assumption that you claim to ‘know god’ can you tell us what exactly it looks like ? There is talk of a ‘living god’ so is it similar to a Dalek with a deformed creature inside or is it a 20 foot tall Iron Man that appeared down at the Waterfront on Ipswich Docks a few years ago ?

      Anyway, who are you to say ‘god’ could not intervene in every act of sin if you cannot even tell us what this god looks like, are you not just putting words into your gods mouth ?
      Don’t you read the Marvel comics – even Superman can find time to stop and have a chat to the public from time to time. It wouldn’t hurt for your ‘god’ to be a bit more sociable would it ? (and I might add I visit a lot of churches and never even see a ‘soul’)

      But what about the innocent children that suffer every day under the watchful gaze of this ‘god’ are they sinners too when they fall into the water and drown. You can hardly claim a ‘loving god’ when it allows these terrible accidents to happen – you come up with an answer for everything else your ‘god’ does, so how do you answer this ?

      • Oops ! Sorry Sarky, I never spotted that you had slipped in another reply (but I’m very pleased you raised the child abuse issue – this is very close to my heart, and when you realise that a lot of this took place ‘by gods chosen’ no less and right under ‘gods’ nose in church orphanages – well it makes my blood boil !)

  14. Neil, child abuse is found in all walks of life, not just the church. However, like you, what makes me angry is the denials and cover ups that have taken place. If people in positions of authority within the church are found culpable, then they should be rooted out and feel the full weight of the law. Hppefully the proposed government review will go some way to addressing this.

    • I didn’t want to say more at the present time for fear of allowing Graham to avoid having to answer these challenging questions put to him.

      However, yes child abuse is found in all walks of life and is not exclusively of a sexual nature, but here we are talking specifically of abuse within the church.

      I have no understanding of Islamic practices, but there can be no doubt what westerners call sexual abuse is ingrained within Muslim tradition.
      The christian church goes about it in a different way under the guise of ‘gods love’ and children’s education. Telling children religious lies is abuse in itself as far as I am concerned, but this is only paving the way for full on sexual abuse. I do not buy the excuse that these are not truly ‘men of god’ who commit these acts – after all, they have come through the long process of working their way through the church to reach these positions and many must have gone on to become bishop’s, cardinals, and even Popeye the Sailorman himself and Archbishop (I’m trying to cover all the higher ranks of both catholic and CofE churches)

      There will always be children who can spot a vulnerable elderly or lonely person to take advantage of who will invite them to his home for company and maybe ‘a bit of fun’ and then they end up slowly taking his valuables and demanding money. These street-wise children know precisely what to expect and what they are doing and before long police suspicion is aroused, all the children are rounded up and given a good talking to, then probably made to make false statements along the lines of “We had never seen him before,… made us go to his house … no, we never had a good laugh after because we stole all his valuables and ate his food on every visit (this would never be put in the statement) we only went there once (the statement will never say probably over 5 times) and then the old boy is arrested and his life ruined even more.

      No, I am not talking of street wise children here, the sort of children in these orphanages were from broken families who had never received love and affection and thus were easy prey for their abusers whose motives were purely lust and not to provide love.

      But the point is, the church has always stated that these people “ARE CHOSEN BY GOD” or “DOING GODS WORK” and this is why I get so angry.
      Surely even the dumbest christian has seen through this whole scam by now and you would think no parent will ever risk sending their children to a church school anymore – BUT THEY STILL DO!!

      What does this say about these parents … it can only be … BLIND FAITH.

      (and didn’t Welby recently say he expects there is more to come ?)

  15. Neil, your painting in pretty broad strokes here. Although I agree that indoctrination is a form of abuse (still get nightmares of hell 30yrs later!!) I think it is a massive leap from that to sexual abuse and I dont really see the connection. I do agree though that christians default to the ‘they can’t have been a real christian’ setting, when any wrong doing is found. This is obviously not true, they are only not christians because they were caught.

    Sadly abusers will always try and put themselves in positions of power over the vulnerable and that will always be in churches because of the nature of their work. I think the important thing is how churches deal with this and at the moment they are falling way short.

  16. When I mentioned “… paving the way for full on sexual abuse” I meant, having told children how much ‘god loves them”, those with evil intent will/can use these words as a softening up technique for worse to follow. I shouldn’t think I am far off the mark and this may even be part of the reason why the catholic church in particular, have got away with it for so long – because the gullible/misguided parents (if the child has any) have been brought up to believe this is all part of ‘gods love’ so for many, many years have turned a blind eye.

  17. The family of a customer of mine have suffered terribly from the effects of child abuse and there is not a day goes by without its effects being evident though the perpetrators were not clergy. The bible has been deeply helpful for them in dealing with its effects. That’s partly the function of the bible to give you resources to deal with adversity and also suggests that we can be strengthened by it.The bible does not present a life without suffering in fact it does the opposite by telling you like Buddhism that suffering is part and parcel of life. The book of job is mostly dedicated to it and the central figure Jesus Christ suffers on the cross. The serpent is there from the beginning and through human choice the chain of suffering begins. The free will argument makes perfect sense to me and many other Christians. The ten commandments and other teachings in the bible are there to help us make those right choices. But the bible implies something else that our sin also corrupts the creation itself. Even secular commentators sometimes link the depletion of the ozone layer, irreversible climate change, almost extinct fossil fuels, destruction of rainforests, melting polar ice caps, rising tides, imbalanced eco systems, pandemics such as aids and increasing natural disasters such as earthquakes tsunamis and famine with human sin, greed and a disregard for the planet.. Scientists and politicians take these things very seriously. Politically we have conflict in Israel ,Palestine, Iraq, afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria Libya, Egypt, to name but a few and human rights abuses and oppression in many other countries. The Bible predicts that such things will be the case as time passes. This prediction in revelation confirms that God did not intend to control humans but rather guide us to accept his purposes voluntarily.

    • Did you really mean to make that comment Graham and be treated seriously ?
      I’m not sure what you are supposed to mean by “The serpent is there from the beginning …” – could you try writing in plain English please ?

      So earthquakes et al, are caused by human sin are they ? I was always under the impression that this god thing created the planet from a lump of clay and didn’t fire us in the kiln for long enough due to his calculations being out a bit. But your suggestion sounds much more logical.
      It all makes perfect sense now … this explains the tsunami in Japan that destroyed the nuclear reactors, god was obviously angry that Japan is the least religious country in the world. “This will teach ’em” god said … CAPOWWW !!! BOOM !!! god shows his love again.

      And to think a few days ago, Gillan had to remind me you are a man of integrity in your home town.
      Yes, obviously.

      • Hi Graham, ‘the serpent is there from the begining and through human choice the pain and suffering begins’, I take it you are talking about the fall of man?? This is where I have real problems and where the god of the bible shows his true colours. Let me explain:-

        If I put two toddlers in a room (innocent and without sin) then placed a big bowl of chocolate in the middle (tree of knowledge) then leave the room and tell them not to touch it, what do I honestly think will happen?? If the chocolate is bad for them, surely I would put it out of reach??? Unless of course my plan all along was for them to eat it and get sick. Anyway I go back in the room and the kids are covered in chocolate, I find it funny because it was obvious that this would happen. Not god though, god banished those children from the house, removed their innocence, turned them into rapists and murderers and gave them cancer.

        If you believe such things, then no way can man be responsible, god manufactured the situation, like some nasty puppetmaster, knowing all along how we would respond andthen taking great delight In punishing us.

        There is an alternative though!! There is no god and we are all just slaves to our evolutionary nature.

  18. I utterly resist the claim that we show our true colours in intense crisis situations. People show their true colours when they feel better. We’ve just come out of a huge recession which has caused massive frustration and suffering for many people. Those of us who have lost out because of it are not inclined to be full of the kindness and gentle mercy which we would be inclined to show.

    The God of the bible’s true colours were shown when he came to earth in Christ. He allowed suffering to take place but he didn’t cause it and he never delighted in people’s pain. In this respect the worst you could accuse him of is negligence.

    Come the Christian revival these debates will be a lot more fun for everyone. In the meantime you may win the arguments, but take note of Dale Carnegie’s words:

    “Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.

    You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.'”

  19. I’m not trying to make anyone feel inferior, i’m just trying to make them think!!!

    • ‘Oh, sorry sarky. Off you go then…’

      Seriously though, likewise.

      I blame the thought police again.

      • Cheers Nick, just think its important to question things that are sometimes seen as untouchable or that people have just accepted and not really thought about!!!

      • You are right there Nick … for the past 2,000 years (very aprox) the church have been the thought police and laws were introduced to make sure we never strayed from these ridiculous thoughts.

        The tide is now turning – the believers are in the minority and the loony’s are showing their colours.

      • Neil it’s not my fault that some people are brow-beating bullies. Also, I doubt any of us have lived in a society in which the Church rules. Maybe she has learned her lesson?

        And you can’t accuse Christians of not having free-thought – we have been a sanctuary for free thought and expression for centuries. Also God is supposed to be the source of all true freedom – he promotes free-thinking – if there is ever one good thing about God it is that he allows us to think what we want. And to be honest, I don’t want to think the unthinkable anymore.

        We have an interest in freedom and want individuals to be free. As I say, when someone wants to limit any freedom you have – get very worried.

        But if you are thinking freely – what is more important? The freedom to think and express negatively or the freedom to think and express positive things?

        Also – just for you to think about – has the atheistic ‘free-thinkers’ tagline/brand just become a tradition these days rather than a reality?

        It seems to me that the atheistic cause is more important than the needs of the individual. Some prominent atheists get rich and comfortable. It has become a system and your genuine, sincere atheist is treated like a cog in the machine these days.

        If you consider me to be a spin-doctor for a dying religion then you will at least have to admit that if that is true I would know what I’m talking about?

  20. I agree its good to think and discuss even if we don’t quite agree

  21. Nick ‘when someone wants to limit any freedom you have – get very worried’

    Gay marriage?? Abortion??? Sex before marriage??? Etc etc etc

  22. As I thought, Graham has managed to avoid those awkward questions that were put to him elsewhere, therefore I have come to the conclusion it is impossible to have a sensible conversation with somebody of his mindset that seems to belong to the days of the Wild West … no, I’m being too kind, I meant the Stone Age.

    Nick – it’s been enlightening conversing with you … I never knew ‘christians’ believed ‘god’ and jesus were the same thing, whilst other christians think jesus was the son of ‘god’ – such is the nature of a religion invented by too many cooks I guess.
    You give up too easily in the debates we have had and in a sense I feel guilty so I have decided to call it a day.

    Sarky – I wish I could stay as calm as you, but I truly see Graham as a serious threat to the advancement of science, at least in his home town where he seems to have influence over some individuals.

    Gillan – thanks for tolerating me, it was good natured of you to allow me to stay tuned in to your site for so long. With you, there is hope, and I hope one day you will join us.

    Goodbye everybody.

  23. Cheers Neil, it was interesting reading anothers point of view.

    Take care.

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